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Monday, 15 August 2011


Najjar and I with several local kids during Summer Art Workshop in Carbondale, Illinois, 1991.

Everything is interconnected. Circumstances that we may take as a disaster or bad can become a path towards our own redemption. This is not 'Shawsank Redemption' even though it is no less intriguing. 

Circumstances that surrounded one Najjar Abdul Musawwir and his eventual  friendship with me have taught me that life can be so precious and blessed that it's energy glows even across oceans, continents and time, beyond what we normally assume as bad experiences.  

Having fun with the use of recycled papers to make a large mural on peace

Lets do some groove

The finished painting by the kids

Najjar's redemption came through the worst of circumstance, during his wild years as an African-American teenager somewhere in Midwest USA. It came through 3 shots on the head of a victim (white man) during a robbery. The gunman was, of course, Najjar. The poor man was at the wrong place on the wrong time. He was not even trying to stop the robbery. 

"So why did you shot the poor fella?" I asked Najjar while we were  recalling the event. "I shot him because I hated white people then," Najjar told me. "Luckily, he didn't die. He even managed to appear in court with his whole head covered, to point at me."

Najjar had a wild and violent teenage life. No need to gloss over the things that he had done during his teenage years. To cut the story short, Najjar was sentenced to ten years in prison. Prison became the seed of his redemption.

"So what happened in the prison?" I asked.

"Well, at first, I heard this weird sound very early in the morning from one of the air tunnels in my cell. Allahuakbar! Allahuakbar! Of course it sounded weird to me at that time. So I went to check. I saw this black guy doing some strange movements, putting his butt up in ways that you would not do in prison, unless you are asking for it, you know what I mean. I said to my self, this guy must be crazy. You don't do that in prison. I asked other inmates about him. They told me he did that because he is a Muslim. I said, what? a Muslim?"

Najjar finally approached the guy, who eventually introduced Islam to him, and taught him to read (Najjar could not read then, which partly explain his wild predicament then).  Najjar was intrigued by the story and the character of Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. 

"I said, Prophet Muhammad was cool. He taught us to think and act correctly, despite all the negative circumstances that may surround our life. I took in Prophet Muhammad as my hero, my role model, my kinda guy. I began to be more interested in Islam. My initial path towards Islam and my redemption came from this inmate."

"Of course, I asked this guy, if he's a Muslim, why is he in the prison with me? I came to understand later that he was a victim of a false accusation. He tried to help his neighbor from some thugs only to be accused of physical aggression. He was in the prison only for few weeks. If he wasn't caught and thrown into the prison, I wouldn't hear the azan and be introduced to Islam. If I didn't shoot that poor man, I wouldn't be seeing this guy.I won't be a Muslim, I won't be changing my life, pursuing my education at SIU. I won't be meeting you!" Najjar said in his jazzy slang.

When I first met Najjar at SIU (Southern Illinois University at Carbondale) in 1990, he asked me, "Are you a Muslim?" I replied, "Yes". His face was beaming with excitement and pride as he proclaimed, "I am a Muslim too!". 

"Say hi to Jamal. Where do you think he is from?" asked Najjar.
"Mexico!!!!!" they replied.

Immediately I was taken a back a bit. Never before I heard such pride and conviction in claiming one's faith. His face was also as fresh as a new-born baby. 

Najjar then, was on his way to reclaim his life, to start afresh. I was then a young Malaysian student, facing a cultural shock of some kind in this new territory called USA. I was encountering many forms of self doubts about many things, including all the things that I took for granted as given or natural (like my ethnicity and most importantly, my faith). My hosting country (USA) was then at war with Iraq. Islam didn't ring nicely in the mass media. It was even sadly demonized. 

Najjar and I, interviewed by Satira for an article in the Utusan Malaysia

What came or transpired after that brief introduction or meeting with Najjar (and his eventual visit or Ziarah to Malaysia almost 20 years later to experience Ramadhan amongst so many other things) will be another blog entry.

Salam Ramadhan.

Najjar in a complete Malay traditional attire, with Rozana and I and his Malaysian friends during his wedding day
Like an African King
Najjar and wife newly-wed wife Khalila (sitting 2nd from right) during their wedding reception
An African-American and few gentlemen
Malaysian entourage, from left, Hasnul, Arif, Wan and Shukri. Satri and Shamsul not in picture.
Rozana (yellow tudung) with Wan's wife.
From left, Awe, me, Najjar and Hasnul Joned after prize giving ceremony for Student Purchase Award at SIU
Portrait drawing session
Two man show at Hickory Lodge, Carbondale, Illinois, 1991
Working on "Moral Destruction" in studio, with Rozana, providing the coffee.
With Najjar, in front of "Moral Destruction", 1991

For the time being, check out the following link for photos of Najjar's Ziarah at


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